A Chemical Imbalance


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This week’s post is an excerpt from Candy and Blood. Available on Amazon.com now.

Blood and feces mixed in a sticky mess across the floor and against the thinly padded walls. The pungent aroma was beyond awful, and I couldn’t imagine bleach or disinfectant ever dispatching it entirely. I also couldn’t imagine why anyone would do this to himself.


Mental illness is an insidious and despicable thing. Often these issues are compounded by incarceration, as there is little premium placed on an inmate’s emotional or mental well-being. For the most part, we are housed and fed, but the state’s care for prisoners doesn’t extend much beyond that. What’s more is that many men with mental health issues are incarcerated because they committed crimes while not in a normal state of mind. In the past, these individuals may have found their way into a legitimate mental health facility, but now, more often than not, they’re put in prison. Then they’re largely expected to behave and are punished when they don’t, without much consideration for the fact of their mental illness. I believe that Renny’s actions would never be repeated, except perhaps by an individual who is suffering from a chemical imbalance in his brain.


Renny was in an isolation cell in Healthcare. He had already proven to be erratic and a major danger to himself. The stitches holding the ragged incisions together began at his wrists and ran the length of his forearms. They were obvious evidence of his unstable nature. It was also the reason for his being in the isolation cell. These particular accommodations weren’t the typical isolation cell, however, but instead were outfitted to deal with the most extreme of circumstances. The walls were padded. It wasn’t plush enough to be luxurious but rather designed to make it at least very difficult, if not impossible, for an inmate to hurt himself by running into the walls or banging his head against them. The floor was concrete and slanted toward the center of the cell where a large drain gaped like an ominous, watchful eye.

Only one piece of furniture was in the cell, positioned right over the drain, and it looked more like a medieval torture device than it did a chair. There was a small square, thinly padded seat with a vinyl cover over it, and a similarly upholstered board ran vertically from the seat to serve as a backrest. Four slim boards all shot out from this central structure, and each had thick leather restraints attached to them. Renny was stripped naked and placed on the seat. His arm and legs were then strapped to each limb of the chair so that he was stretched into an X-shape. This was done for his own safety.

Renny looked like a psychotic. Perhaps he was. He bellowed, a sound filled with rage and frustration, his features twisted in a scowling sneer of defiance and hate. It is said that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and more often than not there’s truth in that aphorism.

Renny found a way to pull one arm free from its restraint, peeling his skin back in the process. This got his blood flowing, but he seemed to be unfazed by his wound, which must have been excruciating. That would only be the beginning of his self-inflicted bloodletting.

photo by luigi diamanti www.freedigitalphotos.net
photo by luigi diamanti

Once he’d unfastened the rest of his limbs, Renny had full reign of his tiny six-foot square cell. He ranted and roared like a caricature of a madman, a stereotype brought to life, except that to see such insanity firsthand is unnerving on several levels. It makes the heart race with an initial tremor of fear that is in no way irrational. More than anything else, Renny looked like a dangerous caged animal bent on destroying anyone he could get his hands on. An unending litany of threats, curses, and various nonsensical ravings expelled themselves from his mouth.

Despite his uninviting appearance, one’s fear couldn’t help but give way to a sad empathy for Renny’s lowly state. Unasked queries inevitably shape themselves: How did he get like this? Why is he like this? These remain unanswered.

Then Renny commenced with actions that would seem impossible to most, or at least unbelievable. He squatted in one corner of his cell and began to strain as he pushed excrement out into his own eagerly waiting hand. He had much to donate. It had the general consistency of a swirl of chocolate soft-serve ice cream. Once the generous deposit was made, Renny began to throw it around his dwelling, taking the initiative to smear it on the walls, floor, and ceiling. He rubbed the feces against his own body as well before finally trying to cover the small glass window in the door through which the medical staff were monitoring him rather dispassionately. Being accustomed to his behavior by this point, they had no intention of intervening. It wasn’t until Renny got his blood flowing again that he really got their attention.

After he had spread his own shit around the cell and covered his body in it to his own satisfaction, Renny stood in front of his chair/restraining equipment, facing the observation window as if he was about to put on a show. Then he gave the medical staff something to look at. With an uncanny, unnatural, single-minded determination, Renny began to bite at the stitches in his right arm. He held his arm in front of his face, teeth gnawing and gnashing to get a good hold before tearing at the stitches and ripping the flesh anew. His eyes were wide and wild, and his blood-smeared teeth exposed in a gleefully grinning grimace as blood dripped freely from his chin and arm. Renny looked like he was having the time of his life. Then he went to work on the stitches in his left arm.


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One nurse stood at the door and yelled at Renny to stop. Others began to don rubber gowns, gloves, masks, and goggles as protection against possible communicable infections in the crazed inmate’s blood and feces. None of the staff seemed to be in much of a hurry. Renny managed without much difficulty to rip his other stitches out, and he was splashing his blood around his cell in a frenetic frenzy, rubbing the wounds over his body to add to the coating of crap he already wore. He was running and sliding around his small cell, whipping his arms out around him to send fresh gobs of blood splatting against the walls.

The team of doctors and nurses, six in all, was dressed and assembled with various supplies clutched in their hands. They were ready to go, but instead they just waited, crowded around the small square window to watch as Renny gradually began to slow down due to blood loss. After a few minutes, he lost his footing in a particularly slick pool of poop and blood and landed flat on his ass. He made no move to get back up. This was their cue to go to the rescue, and they strolled in casually. Two medical professionals tried to hold his shoulders down, but Renny conjured the strength to thrash back at them, and they all stepped away for a few moments longer until he finally lay still, too weak to fight. His wounds were covered, the bleeding stanched as best as the doctors and nurses could manage, then Renny was carted through the door by all six of them—four carrying the bulk of his weight, while the other two held his arms, which were encased in gauze that was already soggy with blood. He was put on a flat board and strapped into place, his limbs and head immobilized, before being placed on a bed where he waited, bleeding, until the ambulance from an outside hospital arrived to take him for more extensive medical attention.

Whether he died or was shipped to another joint, I don’t know. Renny never returned to the prison after leaving in the ambulance. What Renny left behind was an abysmally disgusting and nauseating mess and some severely frayed nerves and frazzled minds. Amongst his victims was my cellie at the time: the duty of hosing down and sanitizing Renny’s cell fell to him. The entire experience, from witnessing Renny’s actions to cleaning up his mess, haunted my cellie for years.

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